Prints & Cards
Legacy Heritage Look of Leather 2004
by Jim Mamoulides 11/13/04 - Updated 7/4/05
From Button Down Shirts To Chaps
Since its introduction in 1995, Sheaffer has gone in many different directions with the Legacy pen profile. The first pens were very traditional, borrowing heavily from the PFM / Pen For Men line they were inspired by. The first Legacy line had models that clearly emulated the all black plastic PFM III, the stainless cap PFM IV, and the gold plated cap PFM V. With the Legacy 2 line, introduced in 1999, Sheaffer branched out with more adventurous finishes, and yet stayed close to the "sensible" and "serious" look. In 2001, Sheaffer loosened up, releasing the whimsical Black Pearl Special Edition, with its original screen painted spotted design.
The pen market in 2004 is much different than it was in 1954. Fifty years ago, the fountain pen was the principal ink writing instrument in the USA, and though ballpoints had been on the market for nearly a decade, they were as pricey as fountain pens, were initially unreliable, and therefore were not widely accepted. Having a good quality pen was important to consumers and pen advertisements in the early 1950s were plentiful and often focused on new features and benefits.
Today, fountain pens are prestige writing instruments, and in Sheaffer's case, make up only about 25% of production. Fine pens are purchased less as tools than as accessories, and pen makers work hard to attach cachet to their products. Fashion sense is as important as functionality. Rarely today are pens sold on their ink capacity.
Big changes occurred at the top of the Sheaffer line in 2003. The Touchdown filling system, an efficient system introduced by Sheaffer in 1949 and used in many Sheaffer pens for decades, was dropped in favor of a conventional cartridge / converter system. This third generation Legacy was dubbed Heritage, turning the page on the very PFM-like original Legacy, and the more rounded Legacy 2. Sheaffer made this decision both to reduce the cost of the pen by removing the Touchdown filling system and to broaden the appeal of the flagship pen with a more consumer friendly cartridge / converter system.
East Meets West
Sheaffer sent me a pre-release Look of Leather pen to review and photograph. When I first saw the new pen, my first question was, "How did they do that?" At first glance, the black pen I took out of the shipping package really looked like it had been wrapped in leather.
The Look of Leather pens are regular off the shelf Legacy Heritage pens with a special finish. This means the base pen has the same solid construction and high quality appointments one would expect. So how was the pen finished? I asked, and was told, "I can't tell you." It was a secret.
This, of course, got the curiosity going full steam. I took a magnifying glass and took a closer look. It was clear that the pen was painted in two steps. There is a matte base coat on the cap and barrel and it looks like the undercoated pen is then topped with a think, patterned high gloss laque coat. The pattern definitely evokes full grain patent finished leather, showing wide, large grain markings with a high gloss finish. I did make a few guesses as to how it was done, but the wall of silence was firm and stony.
Several weeks later, I had the opportunity to visit the Sheaffer factory in Fort Madison, Iowa. During a tour, the product manager brought out the next and upcoming finish of the Look of Leather pen, and I asked how the finish was done. Sheaffer does most of the manufacturing and finishing steps on all their other lines in house, much of it detailed hand work, and I thought the answer would be some complex new advanced process, as was being done on other lines, like the Chameleon and Rainbow finishes.
Actually, Sheaffer sends Legacy Heritage blanks to a partner in Asia. The pens are first sent to a small shop that does the undercoating and then the pens are sent to a specialty finish shop where the heavy laque pattern finish is applied. This shop has special skills to set up and finish the pens with the intricate pattern. The pens are then sent back to Fort Madison for inspection and final assembly.
The Look of Leather pens are virtually a special edition, with much hand detail work, making a very unique pen. Currently there are three finishes in the line, but Sheaffer is working on at least one new one, which should be released possibly in early 2005.
The Formal Black finish lives up to its name, with the base paint and the textured finish being almost the same tone. Sheaffer chose palladium plate for the trim and nib which gives the pen a cooler look that bridges the classic tooled leather look texture of the cap and barrel with a high tech white metal treatment. Gold plate trim certainly would have qualified as formal, but would have been more retro.
Identification guide and features:
The Brushed Brown finish is probably the most "natural" and classic looking of the three current Look of Leather finishes. It's a dark cocoa brown accented with lots of gold plated trim. Initially, it was the only gold trim model in the line.
Identification guide and features:
The Re-assuring Blue finish has the most contrast between the base coat and the textured laque finish. The base coat is a matte mid blue and the textured coat is a rich dark blue with a glossy finish. Of the three finishes, the Re-assuring Blue is less formal, though the blue and palladium trim retain a tech look. Where the brown and black finishes might work well with chaps, the blue finish is more urban cowboy.
Identification guide and features:
All This And Burgundy, Too
I actually got to see the upcoming, and as yet unnamed burgundy finish while at the Sheaffer factory in October. The Sheaffer product development manager brought it out in the ballpoint pen. It's a rich, deep wine burgundy that has a classic leather look to it. It's trimmed out with gold plated appointments like the Brushed Brown finish and is a welcome addition to the line.
The Burgundy finish shows a natural contrast between the deep burgundy finish and the gold plated trim. The base coat is a matte burgundy and the textured coat is a glossy darker burgundy. The Burgundy, like the Brushed Brown, is the most natural looking color combination. The Burgundy model was introduced in June, 2005 and Sheaffer had increased the retail prices at the introduction.
Identification guide and features:
I was very privileged to get an advance example of the new Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Look of Leather pen during the summer and waited for its arrival with anticipation. I got the dealer sell sheet in the mail a few weeks earlier and the computer generated images of the pen intrigued me. The pens depicted had a high grain and high contrast look to them, and I wondered if the actual pen would look that way.
The pen that arrived from Sheaffer was very different than what I expected. The pen in the dealer slick did not show the depth of the textured finish to its fullest. The picture almost has a camouflage look. The Formal Black pen I took out of the shipping package looks like its wrapped full wide grain patent leather.
I've handled pens that had real leather wrap and the sensation is different than the Look of Leather pens. You can feel the cool painted brass base barrel when first picking up the pen. It gradually warms to the hand with use, as metal base pens do, but the feeling begins cold and warms up as any metallic objects, not the same as the gradual warming of real leather. This is not a bad thing, and the pen is "look" of leather, not real leather. The pen does indeed feel great in the hand, with the leather texture, and it's a Legacy, a perfectly balanced pen, whether the cap is posted on the barrel or not.
The leather grain gives a great tactile sensation. It's deep enough to encourage you to let your fingers take in the patterns, but not so deep as to be distracting. The finish itself is very well done, with good choices made by using a matte undercoat and a glossy pattern top finish in each color. The pattern itself has a natural look, with intentional small imperfections that make it convincing to the eye. The pattern is the same from pen to pen, so a template had to be used to apply the finish, but it is very consistent across multiple examples. The fit and finish overall is excellent.
The Legacy Heritage Look of Leather is a large and moderately heavy pen, with full brass construction. It's 5 1/2 inches long capped and 6 inches with the cap posted on the end of the barrel. It's big around, too. The cap snaps securely onto the section and sits snugly on the barrel end when posted. It may be somewhat heavy, but it feels well balanced in the hand posted or not. This is a good design for a writer's pen, if you prefer a larger and heavier pen. Leaving the cap off during writing may be preferred by those who want less overall weight in the hand.
I like the Sheaffer innerspring clip a lot. It is easy to pocket this pen on many thicknesses of fabric and it stays put. It's not too heavy that it needs a starched pocket to sit in, but you'll know it's there. The design makes the pen a little high in the pocket, leaving the White Dot poking out to tell everyone you meet that you have a Sheaffer riding shotgun.
My experience with Sheaffer Legacy pens is they are consistently good writers, leaving wet, even lines on every kind of paper. The new Legacy Heritage Look of Leather pens are no exception. I generally use cartridges in the Heritage pens, but the converter works fine and the Inlaid nib is easy to wipe after bottle filling. The fine nib is firm and writes very well, adept at note taking and other fine line chores. The medium is softer, with some give in the stroke. It's not a flexible, but it has a softer touch.
The new Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Look of Leather pen is a great new look to the traditional Legacy shape. The pen fits the range from formal to casual elegance and should appeal to both those in the boardroom as well as those out on the range.
My only complaint about the Legacy Heritage line is the limited number of nib choices. Sheaffer elected to only offer this pen with fine and medium grade nibs. I think this is a mistake. Even though the vast majority of fountain pen users are well served by these two nib grades, why send all your other potential customers to the competition when they are looking for an extra fine, a broad, or a stub. Most people in the consumer market are not going to know how to send a pen to a professional nib smith to be adjusted. Although it's an extra step, Sheaffer should stock some quantity of the six to eight standard nib grades and offer them to dealers for purchase and for exchange by consumers.
The Legacy Heritage is a fine addition to the Legacy line. Some collectors may lament the decision to remove the Touchdown system from the pen, but the facts are that Sheaffer is in the pen making business and needs to sell a product that consumers will readily buy and use. I know from personal experience that the Touchdown system is not intuitive, especially to people used to throwaway BIC ballpoints and cartridge fountain pens. Many stores that sell pens do not have staff that will be able to demonstrate the pen, either. The gift pen needs to be approachable to be sellable.
I do think that Sheaffer should consider keeping the Touchdown in their kit for collector models that should and could be made and sold in short runs as special editions. The collector market may be smaller, but collectors will pay a premium for the right pen, and the Touchdown Legacy is the right pen for higher line treatment. A Legacy Autograph with a solid 14 karat gold cap band? Now that would be a collector pen.
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Last Update 7/4/05